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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 7/Epistle to a Lady

TO A LADY,


WHO DESIRED THE AUTHOR TO WRITE SOME VERSES UPON HER IN THE HEROICK STYLE.


AFTER venting all my spite,
Tell me, what have I to write?
Every errour I could find
Through the mazes of your mind,
Have my busy Muse employ'd,
Till the company was cloy'd.
Are you positive and fretful,
Heedless, ignorant, forgetful?
Those, and twenty follies more,
I have often told before.
Hearken what my lady says:
Have I nothing then to praise?
Ill it fits you to be witty,
Where a fault should move your pity.
If you think me too conceited.
Or to passion quickly heated;
If my wandering head be less
Set on reading than on dress;
If I always seem too dull t' ye;
I can solve the diffi—culty.
You would teach me to be wise;
Truth and honour how to prize;
How to shine in conversation,
And with credit fill my station;
How to relish notions high;
How to live, and how to die.
But it was decreed by Fate —
Mr. dean, you come too late.
Well I know, you can discern,
I am now too old to learn:
Follies, from my youth instill'd,
Have my soul entirely fill'd;
In my head and heart they centre,
Nor will let your lessons enter.
Bred a fondling and an heiress;
Drest like any lady mayoress;
Cocker'd by the servants round,
Was too good to touch the ground;
Thought the life of every lady
Should be one continued playday —
Balls, and masquerades, and shows,
Visits, plays, and powder’d beaux.
Thus you have my case at large,
And may now perform your charge.
Those materials I have furnish'd,
When by you refin'd and burnish'd,
Must, that all the world may know 'em,
Be reduc'd into a poem.
But, I beg, suspend a while
That same paltry, burlesque style;
Drop for once your constant rule,
Turning all to ridicule;
Teaching others how to ape you;
Court nor parliament can 'scape you;
Treat the publick and your friends
Both alike, while neither mends.
Sing my praise in strain sublime:
Treat me not with doggrel rhyme.
'Tis but just, you should produce,
With each fault, each fault's excuse;
Not to publish every trifle,
And my few perfections stifle.
With some gifts at least endow me,
Which my very foes allow me.
Am I spiteful, proud, unjust?
Did I ever break my trust?
Which of all our modern dames
Censures less, or less defames?
In good manners am I faulty?
Can you call me rude or haughty?
Did I e'er my mite withhold
From the impotent and old?
When did ever I omit
Due regard for men of wit?
When have I esteem express'd
For a coxcomb gaily dress'd?
Do I, like the female tribe,
Think it wit to fleer and gibe?
Who with less designing ends
Kindlier entertains her friends;
With good words and countenance sprightly,
Strives to treat them more politely[1]?
Think not cards my chief diversion:
'Tis a wrong, unjust aspersion:
Never knew I any good in 'em,
But to dose my head like laudanum.
We, by play, as men, by drinking,
Pass our nights, to drive out thinking.
From my ailments give me leisure,
I shall read and think with pleasure;
Conversation learn to relish,
And with books my mind embellish.
Now, methinks, I hear you cry,
Mr. dean, you must reply.
Madam, I allow 'tis true:
All these praises are your due.
You, like some acute philosopher,
Every fault have drawn a gloss over;
Placing in the strongest light
All your virtue to my sight.
Though you lead a blameless life,
Are an humble prudent wife,
Answer all domestick ends:
What is this to us your friends?
Though your children by a nod
Stand in awe without a rod;
Though, by your obliging sway,
Servants love you, and obey;
Though you treat us with a smile;
Clear your looks, and smooth your style;
Load our plates from every dish;
This is not the thing we wish.
Colonel ***** may be your debtor;
We expect employment better.
You must learn, if you would gain us,
With good sense to entertain us.
Scholars, when good sense describing
Call it tasting and imbibing:
Metaphorick meat and drink
Is to understand and think:
We may carve for others thus;
And let others carve for us;
To discourse, and to attend,
Is, to help yourself and friend.
Conversation is but carving;
Carve for all, yourself is starving:
Give no more to every guest,
Than he's able to digest;
Give him always of the prime;
And but little at a time.
Carve to all but lust enough:
Let them neither starve nor stuff:
And, that you may have your due,
Let your neighbours carve for you.
[This comparison will hold,
Could it well in rhyme be told,
How conversing, listening, thinking,
Justly may resemble drinking;
For a friend a glass you fill,
What is this but to instill[2]?]
To conclude this long essay;
Pardon, if I disobey;
Nor against my natural vein,
Treat you in heroick strain.
I, as all the parish knows,
Hardly can be grave in prose:
Still to lash, and lashing smile,
Ill befits a lofty style.
From the planet of my birth
I encounter vice wdth mirth.
Wicked ministers of state
I can easier scorn than hate;
And I find it answers right:
Scorn torments them more than spite.
All the vices of a court
Do but serve to make me sport.
[Were I in some foreign realm,
Which all vices overwhelm;
Should a monkey wear a crown,
Must I tremble at his frown?
Could I not, through all his ermine,
'Spy the strutting, chattering vermin?
Safely write a smart lampoon,
To expose the brisk baboon[3]?]
When my Muse officious ventures
On the nation's representers:
Teaching by what golden rules
Into knaves they turn their fools:
How the helm is rul'd by Walpole,
At whose oars, like slaves, they all pull;
Let the vessel split on shelves;
With the freight enrich themselves:
Safe within my little wherry,
All their madness makes me merry:
Like the watermen of Thames,
I row by, and call them names;
Like the ever-laughing sage,
In a jest I spend my rage:
(Though it must be understood,
I would hang them, if I could)
If I can but fill my niche,
I attempt no higher pitch;
Leave to d'Anvers and his mate
Maxims wise to rule the state.
Pulteney deep, accomplish'd St. Johns,
Scourge the villains with a vengeance:
Let me, though the smell be noisome,
Strip their bums; let Caleb[4] hoise 'em;
Then apply Alecto's whip,
Till they wriggle, howl, and skip.
Deuce is in you, Mr. dean:
What can all this passion mean?
Mention courts! you'll ne'er be quiet
On corruptions running riot.
End as it befits your station;
Come to use and application:
Nor with senates keep a fuss.
I submit; and answer thus:
If the machinations brewing,
To complete the publick ruin,
Never once could have the power
To affect me half an hour;
Sooner would I write in buskins,
Mournful elegies on Blueskins[5].
If I laugh at whig and tory;
I conclude à fortiori,
All your eloquence will scarce
Drive me from my favourite farce.
This I must insist on: for, as
It is well observ'd by Horace[6],
Ridicule has greater power
To reform the world, than sour.
Horses thus, let jockies judge else,
Switches better guide than cudgels.
Bastings heavy, dry, obtuse,
Only dulness can produce;
While a little gentle jerking
Sets the spirits all aworking.
Thus, I find it by experiment,
Scolding moves you less than merriment.
I may storm and rage in vain;
It but stupifies your brain.
But with raillery to nettle,
Sets your thoughts upon their mettle;
Gives imagination scope;
Never lets your mind elope;
Drives out brangling and contention,
Brings in reason and invention.
For your sake, as well as mine,
I the lofty style decline.
I should make a figure scurvy,
And your head turn topsyturvy[7].
I, who love to have a fling
Both at senatehouse and king;
That they might some better way tread,
To avoid the publick hatred;
Thought no method more commodious,
Than to show their vices odious;
Which I chose to make appear,
Not by anger, but by sneer.
As my method of reforming,
Is by laughing, not by storming,
(For my friends have always thought
Tenderness my greatest fault)
Would you have me change my style?
On your faults no longer smile;
But, to patch up all our quarrels,
Quote you texts from Plutarch's Morals:
Or from Solomon produce
Maxims teaching Wisdom's use?
If I treat you like a crown'd head,
You have cheap enough compounded;
Can you put in higher claims,
Than the owners of St. James?
You are not so great a grievance,
As the hirelings of St. Stephen's.
You are of a lower class
Than my friend sir Robert Brass.
None of these have mercy found:
I have laugh'd, and lash'd them round.
Have you seen a rocket fly?
You would swear it pierc'd the sky;
It but reach'd the middle air,
Bursting into pieces there;
Thousand sparkles falling down
Light on many a coxcomb's crown:
See what mirth the sport creates;
Singes hair, but breaks no pates.
Thus, should I attempt to climb,
Treat you in a style sublime,
Such a rocket is my Muse:
Should I lofty numbers choose,
Ere I reach'd Parnassus' top,
I should burst, and bursting drop,
All my fire would fall in scraps;
Give your head some gentle raps;
Only make it smart a while:
Then could I forbear to smile,
When I found the tingling pain
Entering warm your frigid brain;
Make you able upon sight
To decide of wrong and right;
Talk with sense whate’er you please on;
Learn to relish truth and reason?
Thus we both shall gain our prize:
I to laugh, and you grow wise.


  1. In some editions, this couplet is wanting.
  2. These six lines are wanting in some editions.
  3. These eight lines are wanting in some editions.
  4. Caleb d'Anvers, the writer of the Craftsman.
  5. The famous thief, who, while on his trial at the Old Bailey, stabbed Jonathan Wild.
  6. "Ridiculum acri, &c."
  7. This couplet is wanting in some editions.